The number one concern people have about learning to SUP is whether they’ll be able to stand up. People often tell me, “I have poor balance,” but that’s not a deal breaker. I first tried SUP at a resort on the Big Island several years ago. The resort boards were narrow and tippy for my 6-foot-5-inch 220-pound frame, so I was never able to stand up comfortably. Many have had this experience and never tried SUP again. When I teach beginners to paddle, I put them on the most stable board possible, which is 11’ – 14’ long and at least 30” wide. It’s common for rental shops to put customers on boards that are too short or narrow for their size. Make sure you ask for the largest board possible. Paddle length should be approximately 10 inches more than your height for touring, 8 inches overhead for surfing (take 1-2 inches off each if you have preexisting shoulder issues). Make sure you wear a leash on your ankle on your first time out. After a spill, the board will take off, especially in light wind. If it’s cold on land, you’ll most likely want to wear a wet or drysuit. And don’t forget a life jacket (PFD), which are required by the Coast Guard.
Here are a few tips to make your first time standing up a more rewarding experience:
1. First, find a calm, flat section of water without waves or large chop. Put your leash on your ankle before you get in the water. Walk the board into about 3 to 4 feet of water, which will cushion your body in case you fall and prevent the fin from hitting the bottom.
2. Climb on the board in the middle, your body facing down. Once on the deck, twist around towards the nose and sit up, straddling the board with your legs. Slide back and fourth to make sure you’re in the middle and are balanced comfortably.
3. When you’re ready to try standing, get on all fours in the middle of the board with your hands flat and evenly spaced. Your paddle should be in your hands placed horizontally across the deck of the board. Slowly put one foot on the board, then the other, staying low in a squatting position. Your feet should be about a foot apart and facing forward towards the nose of the board. As you stand up, always keep your knees slightly bent to allow a lower center of gravity and to act as shock absorbers in bumpy water. If you feel any anxiety about standing up while sitting, get up as soon as you can rather than thinking about it too much!
4. Once standing, if you feel tippy, widen the distance between your feet, or take a few little strokes. Momentum will help make the board feel more stable. An old saying in kayaking is, “When in doubt, paddle.” If you continue to feel unstable, stay in the kneeling or sitting position for a while until you gain your balance and get more comfortable on the board. If you fall, hold on to your paddle.
Tips: If there’s wind, stand up facing the wind. If there are small waves, always look behind you to see what’s coming. Then stand up in a smooth area in between the waves. If you encounter boat wake, squat down to stay more balanced and take a few strokes, which will help with stability. You can also use your paddle as a brace, laying the blade flat on the surface of the water when you feel unstable.
— This article is based on material from Rob Casey’s forthcoming book, “Stand Up Paddling Flat Water to Rivers and Surf”, to be published by Mountaineers Books in spring 2011.